World

Philippine journalist known for critical coverage of Duterte arrested again

The head of a Philippine news website known for critical reports about President Rodrigo Duterte is re-arrested at Manila's airport, this time on charges she had violated foreign ownership rules.

Charges against Maria Ressa trumped up, media watchdogs say

Philippines journalist Maria Ressa, an executive of online news platform Rappler, was arrested again Friday in Manila. (Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)

The head of a Philippine news website known for critical reports about President Rodrigo Duterte was re-arrested at Manila's airport on Friday, this time on charges she had violated foreign ownership rules.

"I am being treated like a criminal when my only crime is to be an independent journalist," Maria Ressa, the award-winning head of news platform Rappler, told ABS-CBN news channel as she was led away by police.

Ressa was served an arrest warrant over a libel case last month and spent a night in detention before she was released on bail. Legal action against Rappler has drawn global concern about a free and open press in the Southeast Asian country.

She was arrested again minutes after arriving at the airport from an overseas trip. She said she would seek bail.

"I would like to post bail because I've been served a warrant," Ressa said as she was being escorted away by three police officers.

She later tweeted she was having to post bail for a seventh time in a year.

State prosecutors filed the latest charges against her on Wednesday, while she was overseas.

The Philippine constitution bans foreign ownership of media, but Rappler had said foreigners who invested in its Philippine Depositary Receipts do not have any say in its operations.

Media watchdogs said the charges against Ressa were trumped up and aimed at intimidating those who challenge Duterte's rule, in particular his deadly crackdown on illicit drugs.

"The court case is unprecedented and speaks volumes of the Duterte administration's determination to shut the website down for its credible and consistent reporting on the government, particularly the 'drug war' and the extrajudicial killings of drug suspects and civilians," Human Rights Watch said.

The Natonal's Adrienne Arsenault spoke to Maria Ressa in February. 

Maria Ressa, who was named a Time magazine Person of the Year for her reporting on the violent drug war in the Philippines, talks to Adrienne Arsenault about why a free press is more important than ever and why Canada should be vigilant of election interference. 10:08

Duterte has made no secret of his annoyance at Rappler and has sparred frequently with its reporters, who are known for scrutinizing his policies and appointments and for questioning the accuracy of his sweeping, often bellicose statements.

Ressa was named a Time magazine 2018 Person of the Year as one of a group of journalists the magazine dubbed "The Guardians."  

A police spokesman said officers were executing a court order when they arrested Ressa.

"There is no bias. Whenever we are tasked by the court to issue a warrant of arrest, we do so," spokesman Bernard Banac told ANC news channel.

A combination photo provided by Time Magazine shows its four covers for the 2018 Person of the Year, including one featuring Maria Ressa, bottom right. (Time Magazine via Associated Press)